It’s bad enough when you run into exes on campus. So what happens when you go home for Thanksgiving break and see your high school ex-boyfriend? Memories come rushing back. Sure, you’ve moved on (maybe), have a new life at your college and hardly think about him anymore. Then you see him! Now you’re wondering how you’re going to keep your cool.
Before you run into him...
You don’t have to leave the house dressed like a runway model, but you can take extra time on your appearance before you walk out the door. “Okay, let’s face it. If you roll out of bed, barely brush your hair and head for the mall, Murphy’s Law states that you will definitely run smack into your ex,” says Jodi R. R. Smith, the president and owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “It’s best to employ preemptive etiquette and be prepared. While pajama pants are great for lounging in front of the TV, you should take it up a notch when you’re going out and about.”
This can be as simple as throwing on a cute sweater and jeans, swiping on a little mascara and lip gloss and twisting your hair into a sexy bun. If you do run into one of your high school exes, you won’t be worrying about how you look and can focus on making the best of the encounter.
Now what should you say and do if you run into him? We’ve developed a reference guide to help you through a few potentially awkward encounters.
Encounter #1: You run into your ex at the mall or local pizza place.
Christina*, a junior at Ohio University, ran into her ex-boyfriend while Christmas shopping at the mall one year. Their relationship had ended amicably, but it was still awkward. “I just asked how he was doing and how his family was doing. He asked the same of me,” she says.
Your current feelings toward your ex-boyfriend and the overall situation will determine the best way to handle the encounter.
Carole Lieberman, M.D. psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets says, “Whether or not to have a conversation with your ex depends upon whether you have a crush on him or not and whether he’s alone or with friends or OMG, a girlfriend.”
If he’s alone and you still have feelings for him, Dr. Lieberman suggests keeping the conversation casual and friendly. Talk about school and your holiday plans. You want to engage in small talk without pressing for a deeper connection. “Act friendly but not like you’ve been stalking him,” Lieberman says.
Keep the tone light and watch his body language. Smith suggests paying attention to how much space he keeps between you and him. Does he lean into you or back away? Does he casually touch your arm or hold himself at a distance? “These clues will tell you if he wants to get to know you again or forget you altogether,” she says. If it looks like he wants to run, shorten the conversation, say your goodbyes and return to your shopping.
You should also keep in mind that your ex-boyfriend likely feels the same awkwardness and nervousness that you’re feeling.
“It’s just as awkward for guys as it is for girls,” says Sean from the University of Pittsburgh and one of our former Real Live College Guys. “Don’t flat-out ignore your ex. Acknowledge each other and don’t be afraid to talk. If he ignores you or doesn’t want to talk to you, remember that it’s really too bad for him.”
Sometimes your former boyfriend doesn’t want to talk, so avoid pressing the issue. Smith suggests a quick “Hey, great to see you! How are things at school? Gotta run, just grabbing a few things before I’m obligated back at the house! Happy Thanksgiving!” and walking quickly and confidently away.
If he’s with his friends or a girlfriend, Dr. Lieberman advises the smile-and-wave. It shows that you’re not still hung up on him (even if you are) and helps the both of you save face from a potentially horrible encounter.